Author Eleanor Brown Talks About The Weird Sisters, Writing in First Person Plural and Sticking to her Guns

I read The Weird Sisters this spring — and then my friend, CP and fellow women’s fiction (and other things) writer Pamela Toler and I met author Eleanor Brown at The Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago!  That makes welcoming her to Women’s Fiction Writers even more fun for me!  I’m sure you wanted to see that photo again so I included it (I never want to disappoint! ;-) ).

The Weird Sisters is an impressive book built around the lives of three sisters as they converge on their childhood home (ok, one never left) and revisit their relationships to each other, their parents and the town.  I found the book to be complex (the way I like books to be) but not overly complicated.  It is super smart but not at all stuffy.   Add some Shakespeare and stir.  Voila!  A great read.  

Spending time with Eleanor (and Meg, thankyouverymuch) in Chicago showed me once again how generous authors are to each other and to those of us wagging our tails behind them aspiring to be counted among them.  

Please welcome Eleanor to Women’s Fiction Writers!  

Interview with Eleanor Brown, Author of The Weird Sisters

ASN: The Weird Sisters is written in first person plural — meaning, the three sisters share the first person point of view simultaneously.  Was this your first choice for how to write the book? Did you come up against any resistance? I found that once I was into the book and reading, it was easy to understand and natural.

EB: As a reader and a writer, I’m very interested in voice and point of view. I discovered first-person plural long before I started writing The Weird Sisters, and wondered why it wasn’t used more often (I now know the answer – it’s really hard!) and what kind of story it would work for. When I was building the idea for the book, I thought about the way that, when we tell stories about our families, that “we” is always in there: “When we were little, we went to Disneyland.” I thought it was the perfect way to underscore one of the ideas in The Weird Sisters, which is that no matter our relationships with our families, they are a part of us. So the three sisters narrate together in one voice.

There were some agents and editors who either didn’t like the voice or worried about its marketability – I had one agent tell me point-blank that she would represent me, but only if I rewrote it in simple third person. But I believed in what I was doing, so I stuck to my guns.

By the way, first-person plural is rare, but not unheard of – William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily”, Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, Joshua Ferris’ And Then We Came to the End, Hannah Pittard’s The Fates Will Find Their Way, and Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s The Sisters Eight series all use that voice.

ASN: Were you a Shakespeare expert before you wrote the book? Which hearkens back to — should we write what we know?

EB: Nope, and I’m still not. I came late to Shakespeare – it wasn’t until I was studying abroad in graduate school and had the chance to see a number of his plays performed in amazing settings that I really fell in love. But I did a lot of work and a lot of reading to learn more about the works and their interpretations, which leads me to the second question. I believe in something I once heard Jodi Picoult say at a reading, “Don’t write what you know. Write what you are willing to research.”

ASN: Depending on how the wind blows on any given day is how women’s fiction is perceived.  What’s your take on the whole “feminine tosh” issue.  I also know you write “about families” and I bet if you were a guy — no one would say your work is women’s fiction, they’d say it was a family story — which it is.

EB: I’ve been thinking a lot about this and am discovering that is a really enormous question, that I can’t even attempt to scratch the surface of here. I do know that great writing is not dependent on gender, and anyone who reads exclusively works based on something artificial like that is limiting themselves to a sad extent.

ASN: The Weird Sisters is complex and intricately woven — yet at its core it’s the very basic relationship of sisters — to themselves, each other, their parents and their world(s).  I think that’s what makes it relatable.  How did the idea to tell this story in this way come to you?

EB: I can’t say it was complex when the idea came to me, but thank you! I have always been interested in birth order theory, and the idea of writing about three sisters (so there would be a clear oldest, middle, and youngest) was something I played around with for years. And then other ideas started to attach themselves to that core – what it means to be an adult, the ways families communicate, whether there is such a thing as destiny – and the characters filled out as they explored those questions. I use writing to puzzle out answers to questions I’m wondering about, and all those ideas were ones that were on my mind as I wrote.

ASN: What was your writing process for The Weird Sisters?

EB: I’m what the romance-writing community lovingly calls “a pants-er”, that is, I fly by the seat of my pants – I don’t plot, I don’t plan. I did do a lot of reading and research on topics in the book (like Shakespeare and birth order) and sketched out ideas, but mostly, I just put my butt in the chair and wrote. No routine, no specific time of day, no special tea flavor! I do try to do a thousand words a day, but if I can go beyond that, it’s great.

ASN: Can you tell us about your journey to publication?

EB: It’s really not a very sexy story! I published some shorter pieces and entered contests so I had a writing resume. I wrote some terrible novels that I knew were terrible. When I wrote The Weird Sisters, I knew it was better, so I researched agents, sent out about 100 queries, found an agent, and while she looked for a publisher, I went back to writing! It took a while for the book to sell, but it finally ended up at auction and I was thrilled to end up at Amy Einhorn Books.

ASN: Are you writing a new book? Can you (will you) tell us a little bit about it?

EB: I am! And I am superstitious and don’t talk about my writing while I’m doing it, so I’ll just say it’s another story of relationships, but this time more about love and marriage and divorce. That’s about all even my agent and editor know!

ASN: What is your definition of women’s fiction?

EB: This is another issue I’ve been thinking a lot about. I think the market describes it as “book club fiction”, character-driven stories about relationships, usually with an all- or mostly-female cast. But I think that’s an awfully big tent, and that’s a good thing, because there are a lot of stories to be told.

ASN: What is your best piece of advice specifically for aspiring women’s fiction authors?

EB: Read widely. There are things to be learned from your favorite women’s fiction authors, but also from non-fiction, thrillers, mysteries, romance, anything you can get your hands on!

Eleanor Brown is the New York Times and national bestselling author of The Weird Sisters, hailed by People magazine as “a delightful debut”, and as “creative and original” by Library Journal.  Chosen as a Best Book of the Month by Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and an Indie Next Pick,The Weird Sisters was also selected as a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers title and is scheduled for release internationally.

Born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, Eleanor lives in Denver, Colorado, with her partner, writer J.C. Hutchins.


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13 thoughts on “Author Eleanor Brown Talks About The Weird Sisters, Writing in First Person Plural and Sticking to her Guns

  1. What a great interview – and so timely, as THE WEIRD SISTERS is up next on my TBR stack (which happens to be on the bookshelf next to my workspace, and which happens to taunt me daily). This post just makes me want to dig in even more quickly (esp. the first person plural; I, too, love different voice and POV methods)!

    And there are so many wonderful messages here: to “believe in what we are doing” as writers, and “to stick to our guns.” I learned this the hard way, myself, after letting an ‘instructor’ convince me to rewrite my first novel, which transformed it into something that turned out NOT to be mine, in the end. I also agree with the “Write what you are willing to research” advice; it’s something I do in my freelance writing, so why not apply it to fiction?

    Can’t wait to read, as I’m also a fan of Shakespeare. Like Eleanor, I fell even more in love after attending a few Shakespeare festivals.

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    • Aww…thanks, Melissa! I guess maybe we all have to have that one experience where we write something to someone else’s specifications just to realize that it’ll always end in tears. Or at least with an icky manuscript.

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  2. Like Melissa, I now have The Weird Sisters on my TBR list, which is growing rapidly because of this blog! Can’t imagine tackling first person plural. Third person is about all I can even attempt at this point. :-) Look forward to diving in.

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    • Thanks, Denise (and yes – Amy is dangerous for the TBR pile!). First person plural took some working up to, but I believe stories will tell you how they want to be told, so you never know….

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  3. I’m completely intrigued by this interview (and eager to see how first person plural reads), so The Weird Sisters just hit the top of my TBR list.

    And that Jodi Picoult quote is a keeper: “Don’t write what you know. Write what you are willing to research.” That’s brilliant. I would have assumed you were a Shakespeare expert, but you set a great example by showing us that if you want to write about something, you just need to go out and study it. I’ve always thought “write what you know” is a terribly limiting mindset. Well done!

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    • Thanks, Keith! I had the exact same reaction when she said that! Jodi is also the source of another great piece of writing advice: “You can edit garbage, but you can’t edit a blank page.”Thanks,

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  4. Wow, first person plural–wild, crazy and intriging. Guess, I’m hitting
    the bookstore on my way home. Ditto on reading everything. I’ve come across too many people who read only one type of book. Don’t get it. Like love, the best inspiration strikes when you least expect it. Thank you and best wishes on your journey.

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  5. Really interesting interview! I’m so curious about first person plural… I’ve read A Rose for Emily but don’t remember it being in first person plural! I need to reread it and also read your book! I also am fascinated by being a pants-er. There are times I can do this with shorter pieces, but right now the only way I can work on longer fiction is with copious planning. It’s pretty frustrating so I’m also tempted to try pants-ing again….

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    • And that’s the genius of Faulkner – you don’t even notice it’s in that unusual viewpoint!

      Honestly, I envy plotters. It’s difficult, but as long as you can be flexible with your plan, you save yourself all the wandering around and bumping into trees that pantsers do in longer manuscripts. Ultimately, it’s whatever works for the project you’re on right then!

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  6. Reading The Weird Sisters right now, thanks to a contest on another blog, and I’m loving it. Eleanor, I like how you explain first person plural in terms of how we tell our stories. That makes is so simple to “get.” Best wishes for a long, happy, and productive writing career!

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  7. Pingback: Recent Reads and Recs: February 2012 Edition | It'll All Work Out

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